(AP) — Major stretches of river have already gone dry, farmers are leaving their land fallow, and cities are clamping down on water use, but things in New Mexico just went from bad to worse Thursday.
The latest map from federal forecasters shows exceptional drought has spread from a quarter of New Mexico to nearly 40 percent in just one week. At this time last year, less than one-tenth of the state was affected by what is considered the worst category of drought.
New Mexico — the nation’s fifth largest state — is in the worst shape of any state, and conditions have only intensified over the past seven days.
This week’s U.S. Drought Monitor shows a swath of red and dark red across New Mexico, indicating extreme and exceptional drought conditions. The ominous colors stretch up through the Midwest, showing conditions have also worsened over the past year in parts of Colorado, Texas, Oklahoma and Kansas.
“These kinds of conditions will certainly persist for a while,” said Tim Shy, a senior forecaster with the National Weather Service in Albuquerque. “Even if we do get repeated rains over a long period of time, for them to crack the threshold and get us back out of the deep brown color is going to be pretty difficult indeed.”
New Mexico is in its third year of drought. Following a winter with dismal snowpack, little spring rain and windy conditions have combined to leave the state’s reservoirs at record lows. Parts of the Rio Grande have dried up in southern New Mexico, and many communities have rain deficits of a few inches just since the start of the year.
Farmers in southern New Mexico are being hit the hardest. With little to no irrigation water expected to come from the Rio Grande and Pecos River this growing season, they are again relying on groundwater wells.
Along the Rio Grande, the wells have been dropping and there are limited options for drilling deeper.
Officials with the Elephant Butte Irrigation District said the runoff forecast through July is calling for 22,000 acre-feet. That’s just 5 percent of average.
The district says it has only enough water for a 30- to 40-day irrigation season. This will mark both the shortest and smallest release in the nearly 100-year history of the diversion project.